Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. ~ David Kolb
Deeper understanding is the result when learners think about their thinking. The My Learning Portfolio process prompts students to think about their thinking when they select artifacts to archive, and as they capture their thoughts about learning experiences through reflection. The metacognitive benefits of this part of the process alone are critical to a learning portfolio (and deeper learning), but the true power of the portfolio is in the revisiting. Portfolios provide learners an opportunity to critically examine their own experiences and thoughts as an analyst.
In Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, David Kolb describes a learning model in which learning experiences are transformed into deeper understanding through a process that includes two phases of metacognitive strategy. By fusing this learning model with the portfolio process, students move beyond compiling a collection of artifacts to analyzing their portfolios, transforming fragments of knowledge about themselves into a personal learning story.
An important goal of the My Learning Portfolio process is for students to develop the practice of looking for connections between their experiences and their personal characteristics, beliefs, and interests (awareness categories); and capturing them as evidence that can be used in the ongoing development of their learning story. Embedding the ‘collect’ and ‘reflect’ steps into the learning process promotes the idea that there is value in an experience beyond the product, and that learning does not end when the experience ends (critical idea for establishing the relevance of a learning portfolio). In the My Learning Portfolio process we are asking our students to analyze artifacts and reflections, and transform them into a new understanding of themselves.
After focusing on the technical and strategic aspects of collecting artifacts, and working to embed reflection into classroom practices for the past year, we moved forward with the next phase in the process this fall. Our objective was to have students (2nd through 6th grades) analyze their portfolios for one new understanding about themselves and to set one personal goal. They would share their findings with their parents and teachers in the first student-led conference of the year.
So as not to completely reinvent the conference process, teachers were asked to work in their grade level teams to design a reflection guide for students that would facilitate the analysis of their portfolios. They were also asked to designate a period of time in the conference when students would share their story, including references to portfolio artifacts and student-defined goals.
In November, each student presented their learning story to their parents and shared artifacts as demonstrations during conferences. Feedback from teachers and parents about the conferences included remarks about the increased level of self-awareness exhibited by students and their ability to self-assess their current understanding. Yes, the power of the portfolio is in the revisiting. In a process that is cyclical, students have the opportunity to remember/reconsider what they discovered about themselves, making new understandings based on observations and connections.
We will continue developing this phase of the process for second trimester, focusing on how we might analyze the contents of the portfolios along with new artifacts to make discoveries, identify patterns, monitor progress toward goals, and identify gaps. Questions that I have as we look forward include:
- How might we develop a habit of reflection as teachers so that it becomes a regular classroom practice?
- Will organization of artifacts become increasingly important as our habit of collecting and reflecting develops?
- Concise language is important in many communications. It is especially important when producing useful feedback, reflections and goals. How might we make communications a priority in the portfolio process?